Archive for the Core Training Category

The Big Mans ‘Powerhouse’: Why Core Strength Is The Key To Performance.

Posted in Core Training on January 25, 2010 by mnover

Core Training and Core Exercises are catch phrases that have become very popular in today’s fitness and sports performance industry. Everyone seems to be talking about the ‘Core’ and how important it is. More times than not, most people still relate the core to the abdominals and performing ab exercises such as crunches.

But the true definition of ‘Core’ is much more than just the abdominals and building a ‘six pack’. If you as a basketball big man are not properly training your core, you could be missing the most important factor in maximizing your athletic ability and play on the court.

You can look at the core more accurately as the ‘Cross Roads’ of your body: the entire region between your shoulders and your hips. It includes all of the musculature of your scapula, mid and lower back, obliques, and abdominals. It is the link that connects your upper and lower body and allows them to work effectively as one coordinated unit. Without the stability of this region, it is difficult for a basketball player to effectively control his arms and legs.

The core controls a players center of gravity and balance. The core stabilizes a players posture and allows him to play upright and ‘big’ like they should. Many times coaches and parents can get the wrong idea when they watch a tall, young athlete on the court struggling to sprint up the floor or having difficulty holding onto the ball in traffic. They say that he needs to get stronger and develop better coordination. Well this is true, but it is even more accurate to say that if they were to improve the power in their core region, they would be better able to use the strength and coordination that they have, as well as improve both immensely.

For this reason I tell my players all the time that the core is your bodies’ powerhouse! You must train your body to work as one unit using your arms and legs together in full-body movements. Real core training means performing squats, lunges, deadlifts and overhead presses. It means incorporating more body weight training like pushups, pull-ups, planks, bridges, and plyometrics instead of sitting on the leg press, shoulder press, and leg extension machines.

These machines effectively ‘shut off’ your core because it is supported in a sitting position. To develop all of your core muscles, they must be activated to stabilize upper and lower body movements together.

Therefore, from now on when you think of developing your core muscles and improving your overall body strength and basketball performance, make sure you search out a proper functional core training program that incorporates full body movements.

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Ab Crunches; Not the Big Man’s Answer to a Functional Core

Posted in Core Training on January 25, 2010 by mnover

A functional core with strong, stable abdominal muscles is a must for any basketball big man. His ability to move and perform on the court immensely depends on his ability to control his arms and legs. Basketball requires powerful, explosive movements. The core, or as I like to call it the  powerhouse, of the big man’s body must radiate the energy  and strength required  for these precise, explosive upper and lower body movements.

I still see it way too often in todays practices and training sessions for young basketball players. A coach will use Ab crunches as a form of payment for the loosing team in a drill, for example. The tired players flop down on the floor, lace their fingers behind their head and begin to pull their necks forward as they bob up and down like fish out of water. Not only are they not using their abs, but they are putting unnecessary stress and tension on their neck and spine.

Besides this poor execution of the exercise, a basic abdominal crunch is not effectively training the core as it needs to be trained. The core muscles don’t only include the upper abs, but the entire chain of muscles between the shoulders and hips that control stability of the spine and movement of the extremities as I just mentioned. True core function is being demonstrated, therefore, when the body is upright performing dynamic and coordinated upper and lower body movements like receiving a pass in the post.

In this example, the big man must be in a low, seated position with the hips down and back, the chest up and the arms overhead or extended. Powerful hip, back, and glute muscles are being worked here. There will no doubt be a defender pushing from behind, so a strong upper body and trunk are necessary to hold him off. The abdominals also get into the action more directly when the player has to reach out and snatch the ball out of the air and powerfully bring it back into the body.

All this is happening in an upright position where the core is stabilizing the players body alignment and posture. Now, look at a lying on your back abdominal crunch and tell me where the correlation is to an upright, dynamic posture? An abdominal crunch only isolates the upper abs in a lying position where the spine and trunk are all supported by the floor. Nothing is active or engaged.

Core training must integrate upper and lower body in one exercise. That is why simply by performing a front plank, for example, is exponentially more effective and functional for training the abs and the core than an abdominal crunch. The entire body is engaged from head to toe as the core must maintain the alignment and lift of the trunk and legs off the floor.

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Pilates for the Basketball Big Man

Posted in Core Training on January 25, 2010 by mnover

Many top athletes and trainers’ today swear by certain types of strength and training techniques. They rage on the internet and argue about which form of training is getting them the best results. And when they choose one, they go on to proclaim that it is the new ‘revolution’ in athletic development.

The problem with this is that it places a lot of confusion and mis-information in the minds of well-meaning coaches and parents looking for the best solution for their players and children. I get many questions about what I believe are the best methods to use and why. After my long career as a professional basketball player competing around the world and as a strength and conditioning professional, I believe that there is no single technique or style that will produce ‘magic’ results or all of a sudden create the ‘perfect’ athlete.

Variety is the spice of ‘training’, and when you are looking to help young athletes and players improve their performance, you should be open to a global, multi-lateral approach to your programs.

Pilates is one method that a lot of people have begun to swear by in the sports industry. I believe that it is a great supplement to any program and can dramatically help the basketball big man develop his core strength and overall performance. NBA stars such as LeBron James, Jason Kidd, and Ben Gordon have become Pilates fans and use it regularly to stay on top of their game and to prevent injury.

So what is Pilates exactly?

Pilates was designed as an exercise system by a german therapist and world-class athlete back in the 1940s. To improve the physical condition of returning vetereans from the first world war, he created a group of principles that would help condition the entire body from the inside out. It had within its principles a strong inter-relation between the mind and body as it required focused concentration on strengthening, stretching, and stabilizing specific muscle groups.

The ‘Pilates Principles’ were created to educate the body in: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.

Speaking as a Big Man myself, I wouldnt need to have any other motivation for using Pilates than the above stated principles! What more could any basketball big man want than to possess each and every one of those qualities in their game??

For now, let me just focus on one specific principle: Centering.

Centering is another way to explain what we already know is very critical to a Big Mans success; Core Strength. Mr. Pilates himself called the very large group of muscles in the center of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – the “powerhouse.” He believed that all energy for movement began from the powerhouse and flowed outward to the limbs. In other words, the physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate the movements of the extremities.

Therefore, Pilates is the essence of what I have talked about in previous posts. Developing core strength is paramount for the success of all aspiring basketball big men and should be an intricate part of their training repertoire.

The fact that some NBA star guards are using it in their training should turn a light on for all of you big men out there that need to improve your athleticism, strength and coordination! The big man has larger and longer limbs to control which require even more so than smaller players, the development of a powerful core musculature system. The more powerful your center, the more explosive and strong your extremities will be.

Here are a couple of exercises for you to try.

Leg Pull Front is a core strength builder that engages every part of the body. Leg pull front takes a standard static plank exercise a step further. By lifting one leg off the floor, you introduce instability that challenges the abdominals and shoulders to keep the trunk and pelvis stable as you move

Start on your knees. Place your hands on the floor in front of you, fingers pointing straight ahead. Keep your arms straight and your elbows unlocked.

Engage your abdominals and lengthen your spine, extending through the top of the head as you lean forward to put your weight on your hands.
Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists and settled in your back. That means there is a lot of space between your shoulders and your ears.

 With your abdominals lifted, extend your legs back so that they are straight and together. Your toes are curled under so that some weight is on the balls of your feet.
Your ears, shoulders, hips and heels should be in one long line.

Extend one leg from the hip so that your foot lifts off the mat a few inches. Your foot can point softly as it is released from the mat.

As you extend your leg from the hip, your hip will lift slightly, but the challenge is to keep the rest of your body stable in plank position. This requires extra work from your abdominals, shoulders and back. It is important that you initiate this move with your powerhouse and through the hip, not just from the back of the leg. Try not to get tense; use only as much energy as you need to keep perfect form. Focusing on length will help a lot.

Return your foot to the mat and extend the other leg.

Repeat the lift five to seven times on each side

Shoulder Bridge is an advanced Pilates exercise. It requires a lot of strength from the abdominals and hamstrings as they stabilize a lifted pelvis against the movement of a fully extended leg

Lie on your back in neutral spine, with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Your arms are extended along your sides.

Inhale: Press down through your feet to lengthen your spine and press you hips up. You will come to a bridge position on your shoulders with your knees, hips and shoulders in one line. Your abs and hamstrings should be well engaged.

Pause at the top of the bridge to practice lifting one leg, then the other, off the mat. If you are stable with this part of the exercise, proceed to step 2

Inhale: Fold one knee in toward your chest and then extend that leg toward the ceiling. The rest of the body stays still. Relax your shoulders and neck, the work is in the abs and hamstrings.

Exhale: Lower your leg so that your knees are side by side. As you lower your leg, go for as much length as you can. The knee of your supporting leg, the extended leg, and the tailbone are reaching for the wall in front of you as the top of your head is reaching away in an opposing stretch.

Core Muscles, The Big Mans Natural Back Brace

Posted in Core Training on January 25, 2010 by mnover

As a professional basketball player overseas I enjoyed a 12 year career playing in beautiful locations around the world including Spain, Portugal, Japan, and Italy. I consider myself one of the lucky few who got the chance to have such an awesome experience. So many ballers finish their career after high school or college and never get the opportunity to get paid to play a game!

However, it almost never happened. Half way through my rookie season fresh out of Indiana University I injured my low back. I was turning to sprint down the court after a rebound and ‘Zing!’ I felt a shooting pain go down the back of my left leg. I crumpled to the floor as I felt my low back give out on me. Subsequent exams showed I had developed several bulged discs in my lumbar spine and at the ripe old age of 22 I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease (DDD).

DDD is a degenerative condition of the intra vertebral discs that causes varying levels of pain and discomfort. This disc degeneration is a natural part of the aging process and over time all people will exhibit some form of change in the disc.

But because of the high level of forces and compression that playing the game of basketball can put on our bodies and especially our vertebral discs, many young players suffer varying forms and degrees of back pain. For me, it was a continuous fight to maintain my level of back health to complete 12 years of pro ball!

Because DDD is basically a chronic condition that never truly goes away, I had to religiously train and strengthen my body to effectively support and stabilize my weakened lumbar spine. In the early years, unknowingly, I even began using a back brace. In the beginning it was helpful in giving me the support and confidence to get back on the floor and play. The problem came later when my body became dependent on it because it had lost its own proprioceptive ability.

Proprioception is our bodies unconscious sense about information regarding the location, movement and posture of our bodies in physical space. Sensory receptors in our joints, muscles, and tendons send signals to our brains that let us know where we are in terms of everything around us and under our feet. Essentially we lose all movement, balance and stability when we lose our proprioception.

This is exactly what happens when we rely too much on braces for our backs or ankles. These devices ‘soften’ our proprioceptive sense and turn off many of the signals that support and balance our joints.

This is the problem that many athletes and trainers have to be aware of and the entire idea behind PREVENTITIVE TRAINING AND REHAB. If my training through high school and college had focused more on the core stabilizing techniques that I had learned over the years, my body would have been more prepared to endure the rigors of the game and avoid ever developing DDD in the first place.

So for every young ‘big man’ out there working to improve it is crucial that you include in your program the proper core training exercises that will be your ‘natural back brace’ and keep you healthy and strong for a long and successful career!

Here are 4 ‘cant do without’ core building exercises that you can start using in your workouts today.

  1. Single Leg Posterior/Anterior Reaches
  2. Push Up Crawl
  3. Quadruped
  4. Side Raises